I got a call yesterday to say that my 9 year old son hit another child at recess. This is the third time in 2 weeks my son has been physically aggressive at school. The fact that it had been years since he has behaved that way in front of me made me think that this has very little to do with his autism and sensory needs and everything to do with piss poor behavior.
A little back story; Evan was diagnosed with autism at age 3. He was mostly non-verbal until the age of 6 and still struggles with language. He was a happy, gentle child but could be prone to bouts of anger and violence, both of which seemed to dissipate with the development of new language skills.
In fact, it’s been years since he’s been physically aggressive towards me and in that time, my parenting style has changed drastically.
And so I was left to wonder, how do I discipline my child without judgement?
Evan is a very large, thick child with more muscle then fleshy bits. He is solid and because of his ASD, he is a bit numb physically. Evan loves deep pressure, hard hugs and squeezes; they help to keep him aware of his body.
Evans father is 6’4″ and was 6′ by the age of 12.
The way I see it, I have a short period of time to change this behavior before my child is bigger than me.
Because it has been a long time since I’ve had to deal with this behavior, I found myself falling into old patterns of thinking; I imagined how angry I would be in advance of seeing him, to show how much I disapproved of his behavior.
But then I remembered this whole non-judgement malarkey and had to have a serious re-think about how I was going to handle the situation.
How do I show my partially verbal son that his behavior is unacceptable without showing anger or frustration?
I decided to stay calm. I would talk to him, I would discuss all the reasons why being physically aggressive is negative, how that behavior affects others and why he wouldn’t be seeing his ipad for a week.
I met him off the school bus. I was so cool. He was apprehensive at first; if this was last year, I would have acted VERY angry in this situation. Instead, I let myself feel all of the love I feel for him (instead of hiding it behind a mask of anger) but clearly spoke to him about never hitting, about the importance of learning to keep your cool and make yourself happy by thinking happy thoughts instead of lashing out.
“When you are angry or sad, it’s up to YOU to remind yourself of all of the things that make you happy before you act out.”
“I’m sorry mommy! I won’t be hitting.”
“Ok…but can you tell me the kinds of happy things you’re going to remember to think about the next time you’re angry? What kinds of things make you happy?”
He sat and thought for a moment and then replied, “Mommy makes me happy.”
NICE TRY, KID!
He spent the time after school on his bed, contemplating life, the universe and everything (Hitting = bad stuff. Not hitting = Good times), ate dinner at 5:30 and was tucked up in bed by 6:15, 45 minutes earlier than usual.
The first thing he said to me this morning as he crawled into my bed for a cuddle was, “I’m sorry I hit, mommy. I love you.” which I took as a sign that he’d been thinking about it.